Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up © Valory

Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up – Review

Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up © Valory

Thomas Rhett Totally ‘Kills It’ on Tangled Up#Winning

Thomas Rhett • Tangled Up • Valory • Release Date: September 25, 2015

“And this is the verse where you don’t know the words / and you don’t give a damn cause it feels good.” Right on Thomas Rhett – right on! On album number two ‘country’ artist Thomas Rhett at times seems like he’s anything but a pure country artist, experimenting with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The results are an album where you’re so shocked that ‘this is a country album’ that you indeed “don’t give a damn cause it feels so good.” Sure, Tangled Up may be too “tangled up” in its back of modern tricks for the “old guard” but for the current generation who like a cocktail of styles, this is an epic album.

“Anthem” kicks off Tangled Up with a lot of… swagger. Yes, swagger is indeed the right characterization. Country music has changed considerably over the years and the new brand of country blends dashes of pop, electronic, and urban music among other influences. “Anthem” hence is superb way to kick off Tangled Up with the youthful Rhett aware of the contemporary music scene and backed up by awesome, high-flying production.

On title track “Crash and Burn,” Rhett shines, showing off his lower register before ascending to that twang-driven upper register. Again, “Crash and Burn” doesn’t fit the mold of your father’s country music – it’s eclectic with the current generation in mind.   “Crash and Burn” has nothing on the hip-hop country amalgam of “South Side” which opens with the hilarious line “please commence shaking your south side.” The hilarity doesn’t stop there as the hook is golden: “Now people on the left, shake your south side / people on the right, shake your south side / every single girl, shake your south side / all around the word, shake your south side.” That beat and that saxophone though!

“Die A Happy Man” smartly gives Tangled Up more of a traditional country sound. Even so, when first hearing “Die A Happy Man” it recalls Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” a soulful pop record recalling classic soul itself. “Die A Happy Man” is country – the pedal steel itself is enough to signify this – but it’s also soulful and still has that crossover appeal. Rhett’s traditional side doesn’t last too long – “Vacation” finds the rapper pop rapping – what! While it’s on the corny side, it’s infectiously corny. Is this really country music – that is the question? Somewhat (the liquor for sure) – but “Vacation” sounds more like a big pop record and there’s nothing wrong with that!

The oscillation between traditional country and ‘new’ country continues to be the storyline of Tangled Up, evidenced by the pendulum swinging back to the traditional side on “Like It’s The Last Time.” It’s a solid record, but after bolder experiments, “Like It’s The Last Time” is good, not transcendent or a truly assertive statement. No fears, “T-Shirt” should please pop and country fans alike, dancing on the fine line of both extremes. It doesn’t supersede bigger statements like the ridiculous “South Side” or the hella fun “Vacation,” but it is a contributing factor to why Tangled Up is such a fun album.

“Single Girl” is DING* DING* DING* – you guessed it – a big country ballad. It’s followed by another pure country number – “The Day You Stopped Lookin’ Back” – which breaks the ‘push and pull’ characterizing the middle of Tangled Up. Title track “Tangled” marks a return to eclecticism and experimentation that’s welcome. Who knew that Thomas Rhett could pull of a track probably best suited for Bruno Mars or Pharrell Williams? For a comparison point, think Mars’ “Treasure” from his 2011 Unorthodox Jukebox.

So if the pop ran strong on “Tangled,” how does Rhett’s unlikely duet with Jordin Sparks turn out on “Playing With Fire?” Actually it is more country-oriented, but has that gargantuan pop chorus working on all cylinders. Penultimate record “I Feel Good” is a return to form – well ‘new country’ form, assisted by LunchMoney Lewis. One of the most memorable lines – “My team won in overtime / I’m three sheets on Bud Light Lime.” SMH! “I Learned it From the Radio” closes more traditionally, but can you blame him? – He can’t completely go to “the dark side!”

How does Tangled Up stack up – very, VERY good to be honest. This is the “new guard” of country music in full force. Traditionalists may not be a fan and may even consider Rhett a sellout with his pop, dance, and soulful experiments, but personally – being part of the more youthful generation – Rhett’s rebelliousness deserves complete respect. Much like Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, this is a brand of country for people who wouldn’t ordinary like it or have preconceived notions. Highly recommended!

Favorites: “Anthem,” “Crash and Burn,” “South Side,” “Die A Happy Man,” “Vacation” and “Tangled”  


Snoop Dogg, BUSH © Columbia

Review: Snoop Dogg Sounds Reinvigorated on ‘Bush’

Snoop Dogg, BUSH © Columbia

Snoop Dogg • Bush • Columbia • US Release Date: May 12, 2015

How does a legendary MC continue to keep it G in his early 40s? He reinvents himself or at least retools. Snoop Dogg does just that on Bush by embracing his soulful, funkier side, while easing up on his edgier, more explicit persona. Normally ridding of the f-bombs and misogynistic references might anger listeners who expect that, but in Snoop’s case, this kinder, gentler persona shows tremendous maturity. Don’t let Bush’s cleanliness dissuade you from listening – Snoop is still very much Snoop!

Things ‘get lifted’ early on with “California Roll” featuring Stevie Wonder. While one will assume Wonder lends his pipes, he actually drenches this chilled out, soulful opener with his harmonica playing. Pharrell handles vocal duties on the irresistibly catchy chorus, while Snoop Dogg sings/pop-raps his verses. “This City” is a groovy number best described as neo-disco record with influences from the late 70s and 80s. Snoop Dogg once more embraces his singing pipes on two of his verses, spitting a tasteful – as opposed to explicit – rap on the third. Two tracks in and Snoop is on his game.

On “R U A Freak,” Snoop allows more of his naughty, risqué side to show. This is obvious on the genius, if corny lyric, “I’m just a squirrel tryna get a nut.” Prior to that, Snoop describes her as “DTF cause she’s down to feel.” Traditionally, “DTF” stands for something more explicit (down to f**k), which the MC implies. More mature Snoop, perhaps? He’s still an OG though!

“Awake” is all about getting some… and weed of course. “Put your hands together and close your eyes,” Snoop spits, “Smell the aroma, visualize.” Later, the MC goes extraterrestrial: “My planet’s Krypton, home of the freaks / come get your moon rocks, I am G.” There are truly “so many pros” on fifth track “So Many Pros,” where Snoop eats up Pharrell’s hella funky grove. Throw in the soulful pipes of Uncle Charlie and Rhea Dummett on the electrifying hook, and “So Many Pros” is another sensational joint – err song! 

On “Peaches N Cream” featuring Charlie Wilson, Snoop unleashes his more salacious side, evidenced by the hook: “She ‘bout to go in / she likes that low end / damn her a$$ is so big / just keep it bumpin’ / Peaches N Cream.” Even with an increase in the innuendo and more rapping from Snoop, he still delivers with more class than his past work. On “Edibles,” another standout featuring T.I., Snoop constructs a superb metaphor encompassing marijuana and sex. Even with the subject matter being PG-13 in the least, T.I.’s guest verse is more explicit than Snoop Dogg’s lyrics.

“I Knew That” continues to find Snoop in soulful form, chilling to the aroma of blunts.   No better to do so than with an attractive lady, right? He’s “riding on your wave girl,” and that ‘wave’ doesn’t sound like the ocean or even smoke. Use your dirty little mind, and you know what Snoop is after. He has a blast – as does the listener – on the penultimate “Run Away” featuring pal Gwen Stefani. It isn’t as accomplished as the crème de la crème (see the favorites), but infectious.

“I’m Ya Dogg” concludes Bush commandingly featuring Kendrick Lamar and Rick Ross. No track on Bush sounds more ‘Pharrellian’ than “I’m Ya Dogg” which has a more modern sound than the rest of the album. It’s arguable as to whether “I’m Ya Dogg” is as potent as opener “California Roll,” but the closer is undeniably scrumptious.

How good is Bush all said and done? Extremely good – no questions asked! Reincarnated was a questionable move for the West Coast rapper, but this blend of funk, soul, and West Coast hip-hop, coupled with the brilliance of Pharrell Williams, makes Bush one of the best albums of 2015. Relevant again – Snoop is definitely back in a good spot! 

Favorites: “California Roll,” “This City,” “R U A Freak,” “Peaches N Cream,” “Edibles” 


Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly © Aftermath : Interscope

Review: ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ Is Kendrick Lamar’s Second Consecutive Masterpiece

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly © Aftermath : Interscope

Kendrick Lamar • To Pimp A Butterfly • Aftermath / Interscope • US Release Date: March 16, 2015

There are two reasons that can make an album tough to review: 1) it’s absolutely horrible or 2) it’s mind-bogglingly brilliant. In the case of Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore effort To Pimp A Butterfly, it is the latter. How in the world would Kendrick Lamar follow up the contemporary hip-hop masterpiece that was good Kid, m.A.A.d. city – that was always the question. The answer is To Pimp A Butterfly, a starkly different album that still runs the conceptual approach near perfect and maybe equal to Lamar’s debut. As an album separated from Lamar’s previous work, this is nothing short of a masterpiece in itself.

To Pimp A Butterfly opens in captivating fashion with “Wesley’s Theory” which features appearances from George Clinton and Thundercat. It is initiated with elements of “Every N***er Is A Star” performed by Boris Gardiner. The depth of “Wesley’s Theory” is evident from one listen, but the message and concept make more sense upon successive listens. Over the course of two verses, Kendrick Lamar spits about success from the black man’s perspective and becoming too caught up in shopping and material things. Complex, it’s a brilliant way to kick off the album.

“For Free? (Interlude)” is incredibly ambitious, thanks to a brilliant jazz backdrop (Robert Glasper on piano) and Lamar’s unorthodox rhymes which have the jazz script in mind. Lamar is nothing short of a rapping beast here, particularly the second half of his verse: “Matter fact it need interest, matter fact it’s nine inches / matter fact see our friendship based on business / pension, more pension, you’re pinchin’, my consensus / been relentless, f*ck forgiveness, f*ck your feelings…”

“King Kunta” references none other than Kunte Kinte, a slave who is best remembered as the basis of Roots. If “Wesley’s Theory” was a bit less accessible at least initially, “King Kunta” is easier to follow. Not only is Lamar referencing the slave (“Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta / Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta”), but he’s also referencing his ascent in fame and overall notoriety (“I made it past 25 and there I was / a little nappy headed n***a with the world behind him”).

“Institutionalized” proceeds, featuring Anna Wise, Bilal, and Snoop Dogg. “Institutionalized” once more has a jazz sensibility about it, thanks to Pedro Castro’s clarinet riffs and the overall harmonic scheme. Bilal handles a memorable, brutally honest hook: “Sh*t don’t change until you get up and wash your ass n***a.” Snoop Dogg has a small role, but it contributes greatly: “And once upon a time in a city so divine / called West side Compton, there stood a little n***a / he was five foot something, God bless the kid / Took his homie to the show and this is what they did.”

“These Walls” continues in a soulful, jazzy manner, once more featuring the talents of Anna Wise, Bilal, and Thundercat. There is more a gentler vibe, which correlates with the sensual message. Much like everything else that is Kendrick Lamar, there is a more complex message beyond sex, which he highlights with lyrics like “If your walls could talk they’d tell you it’s too late/ your destiny accepted your fate / burn accessories and stash them where they are / take the recipe, the Bible and God.”

“u” opens with screams over a enigmatic jazz soundscape that’s both beautiful and unsettling. There is tremendous intensity on Lamar’s part, evident from his multiple vocal inflections on the simple hook (“Loving you is complicated”) and his fiery verses. “u” is notable because like a couple of other songs on To Pimp A Butterfly, the element of surprise is in full effect, notably with a production switch up prior to the second verse. The master of different voices, Lamar’s flow is choppy, drunken, and crazy (in a good way).

“Alright” gets some extra ‘swag’ courtesy of a joint production venture between Pharrell Williams and Sounwave. Kendrick Lamar is clearly on autopilot, never backing down from pointed, ferocious rhymes. Interestingly, Lamar revisits a recurrent line throughout To Pimp A Butterfly that first appeared on the opener: “What you want, you a house or a car / 40 acres and a mule, a piano a guitar…” Much like good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Lamar knows how to make an album full of songs relate to one another, a skill many musicians don’t possess.

Another unique interlude follows, “For Sale? (Interlude)” in which the MC constantly speaks of “Lucy” referencing Lucifer. This is clarified at the beginning on the intro: “They say if you scared go to church / but remember / he knows the bible too.” One of the best lines actually makes a pop cultural reference to I Love Lucy: “You said to me / you said your name was Lucy / I said where’s Ricardo?”

The most interesting portion of “Momma” comes during Kendrick’s fourth verse, where his eccentric genius goes unparalleled. Once more, jazz plays a pivotal role, fueling Lamar’s most agile, off-kilter rhymes. “Momma” is followed up by the electrifying “Hood Politics,” which instantly endears itself to the listener thanks to an addictive, ‘gives no f*cks’ hook: “I been A-1 since day one, you n***as boo boo / your home boy, your block that you’re from, boo boo / lil hoes you went to school with, boo boo / baby mama and your new b*tch, boo boo.” “Hood Politics” is one of the best among an album that is stacked from top to bottom.

One of the Darkest, haunting productions helps to fuel “How Much A Dollar Cost,” not to mention the vocal contributions of both James Fauntleroy and Ron Isley. Throughout the chilling track, Kendrick tells a story about a homeless man whom he refuses to give money, hence showing a shallow side. At one point Kendrick spits, “I looked at him and said, ‘Every nickel is mines to keep ‘ / he looked at me and said, ‘Know the truth, it’ll set you free / you’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power.” By the end of the verse, listeners find out just “How Much A Dollar Cost”: “The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God.” Heady!

“Complexion (A Zulu Love),” features one of the most respectable messages of To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar tackles different shades of black skin, emphasizing it doesn’t matter how dark one’s skin is. He gets a solid assist from southern female MC Rapsody.

The main attraction of To Pimp A Butterfly comes in at track 13, “The Blacker The Berry.” A song about stereotypes and misconceptions on African-Americans and being upset about violence towards them, Kendrick Lamar is brutally honest. Notably, the key lyric throughout the song is “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015,” which appears at the beginning of the three verses he spits. The last iteration upon the third verse is the key as he finishes the line stating, “When I finish this if you listenin’ then sure you will agree.” He’s a hypocrite because “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? / when gang banging make me kill a n***a blacker than me? / Hypocrite!” Powerful.

Following “The Blacker The Berry” is a tall task by all means. “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” is another integral part of To Pimp A Butterfly, even if the chiller, West Coast vibe joint doesn’t ‘go for the kill’ as much as the “Berry.” Penultimate number “i” already possessed a strong, established reputation, winning two Grammys at the 57th annual Grammys. On “i” Lamar once more references the loveless Compton, and in spite of that, Kendrick spits, “I love myself.” To Pimp A Butterfly concludes exceptionally with “Mortal Man.”

The question isn’t whether or not To Pimp A Butterfly is good or not – it’s how good is To Pimp A Butterfly. The answer is that he album is near perfect by all means. Lamar transcends the expected hip-hop script, incorporating elements of jazz, changing his vocal inflections, and opting for rhymes that contain an incredible amount of substance relevant to society. To Pimp A Butterfly is arguably the album to beat in 2015.

Favorites: “Wesley’s Theory,” “King Kunta,” “Institutionalized,” “Alright,” “Hood Politics,” “The Black The Berry,” “i” 


Drake, If You're Reading This You're Too Late © Cash Money

25 Chart Takeaways: Drake Scores Fourth Number One Album 

Drake, If You're Reading This You're Too Late © Cash MoneyTaylor Swift slipped to #5 on the Billboard 200! Isn’t that fact enough to make you want to read these chart takeaways? It should BE! 

1) Drake hit the big time for the fourth time in his career. Surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late debuts commandingly atop the Billboard 200. Was there any doubt? Nothing Was The Same also sees a bump (#87 to #70) as does Take Care (#103 to #76).

Fifty Shades Of Grey (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) © Republic

2) The Fifty Shades of Grey Soundtrack may have had its vibe killed a bit by Drake’s surprise album, but a robust opening at #2 is nothing to shed tears about.

3) Sam Smith continues to be a force to be reckoned with on the Billboard 200. In it’s 35th week on the chart, it is #3. Sam doing work!

4) Taylor Swift fell to new lows on the Billboard 200 – #5! Even though 1989 fell out of its stronghold in the top 3, it still saw gains.

Beck, Morning Phase © Capitol

5) Beck can thank his win for Album of the Year for his ascent back into the top 10. Morning Phase rises from #39 to #8 in its 29th week on the charts.

6) Unsurprisingly, 2015 Grammy Nominees rises from #15 back into the top 10 at #9. This won’t last, but following the Grammys, doesn’t it make sense for the Grammy Nominees compilation to rise in sales/impact?

7) Nicki Minaj spends her first week outside of the top 10 since The Pinkprint debuted in late 2014. Minaj fell from #8 to #12.

8) Sia reenters the top 20 as 1000 Forms of Fear rises from #23 to #15, 29 weeks into its chart tenure.

Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear © Subpop

9) Father John Misty’s brilliant sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear debuts at #17.

10) Ricky Martin debuts at #20 with his latest Latin album, A Quien Quiera Escuchar.

11) Both Diana Krall and Bob Dylan take tumbles in their second week on the Billboard 200. Krall’s Wallflower falls from #10 to #21, while Dylan’s Shadows In The Night tumble from #7 to #22.

12) Fifth Harmony had a worse sophomore week than Krall or Dylan, tumbling from #5 to a modest #27 – nothing “Bo$$” about that!

Nick Jonas, Nick Jonas © Island

13) To his credit, Nick Jonas keeps hanging around on the Billboard 200. This week, Nick Jonas modestly improves from #34 to #33.

14) Of course she reenters the chart – Annie Lennox that is? Did anyone hear how that woman slaughtered (in a good way) “I Put A Spell On You”? Nostalgia reappears at #40, spending a modest total of just 8 weeks on the charts.

15) Miranda Lambert’s energetic performance of “Little Red Wagon,” not to mention a win for Best Country Album helped her in the sales department as Platinum improves from #51 to #42.

16) ‘Course, you don’t even have to be nominated for a Grammy to see your sales rise. AC/DC’s hellishly good performance of “Highway To Hell” was fuel for the fire for the band’s sales. Rock or Bust improved from #54 to #43. Rock on! Interestingly enough, Back In Black lost support, falling from #73 to #87.

Kid Ink, Full Speed © RCA17) Kid Ink, it’s not your time this year. Full Speed is struggling to even get 25 MPH, and that’s NO not much shade. Full Speed falls from #14 to #45 in only its second week.

18) Rhiannon Giddens debuts at #53 with her solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn.

19) Ohio’s Walk The Moon has been an interesting chart case study. Sometimes they look ‘dead and gone’ while others they look reinvigorated. This week they are reinvigorated as TALKING IS HARD rises from #83 to #57.

Pharrell Williams, G I R L © Columbia

20) Pharrell Williams sees his G I R L rise after a couple of ‘upset’ Grammy wins over Beyoncé and Sam Smith/John Legend. Williams rises from #117 to #78.

21) Has the shock factor of Marilyn Manson wore off on people? Apparently as The Pale Emperor continues a nasty slide down the charts, this time from #55 to #80. Four weeks in it appears MM’s latest is ironically going down the way of the fiery pit… just saying!

22) When it comes to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, we talk about being on the “wrong side of the bubble.” For The Decemberists, they are on the wrong side of sales, the chart, and everything. What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World dropped 44 spots (#59 to #103).

Joey Bada$$, B4.DA.$$ © Cinematic Music Group / Pro Era

23) Not many folks are doing much worse than Marilyn Manson or The Decemberists, with the exception of Joey Bada$$. He truly laid a commercial egg with B4.Da.$$, which free falls from #74 to #117 or the equivalent of a 43 spot drop.

24) Why aren’t y’all “listening to the man?” George Ezra has a lot to offer, but one of those things isn’t commercial success. His debut Wanted On Voyage is a bomb to the nth degree, falling 44 spots from #80 to #124. This is the set’s third week on the chart!

25) Fabolous actually had some good fortune! The Young OG Project improved from #169 to #132. That’s not saying much mind you, but still. Go LOSO!

Beyoncé, Beyoncé © Sony

Reasons Why Each 57th Grammy Nominee for Album of the Year Might Win

Beyoncé, Beyoncé © Sony

Sunday night marks music’s grandest occasion – the Grammy Awards! While there are four big categories, none is more coveted than album of the year. Not only is it the most highly desired, it almost always ranks among the most questionable. Save for a few homeruns (OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Adele’s 21), one could question the voting. Below are rationales for why each album of the year nominee might win and of course why they might not win.

1) Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour 

Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour © Capitol

Why He Might Win: One of the ubiquitous names of 2014 was none other than Sam Smith, who was “kind of definitely a big deal.” He was ubiquitous for good reason as In the Lonely Hour was an honest effort about unrequited love, finding its singer sounding nothing short of angelic. No song eclipsed the set’s biggest and best hit, “Stay With Me.” While Smith isn’t quite on the Adele level where buzz (and sales) are concerned, in a ‘down’ year, Smith sort of filled that role. 

Why He Might Not Win: For as much buzz as Smith had in 2014, he is a new artist. New artists rarely score the ‘big one,’ so that’s a disadvantage for Smith. Additionally, even though In The Lonely Hour has gone platinum and generally been praised by critics, is the hype centered on the album as a whole or just “Stay With Me” it self? Also compared to the other five nominees, is In The Lonely Hour truly a ‘better’ album? 

2) Beyoncé, Beyoncé 

Beyoncé, Beyoncé © Sony

Why She Might Win: Beyoncé has been nominated previously for album of the year, but lost to Taylor Swift (Fearless). This being her second venture with a better album than the first nominated (I Am…Sasha Fierce), can anyone stop Bey? Adding fuel to the fire, the way that Yoncé issued Beyoncé was innovative, truly spiking the sales considerably compared to the so-so opening of her previous album, 4. Also adding even more fuel, what about how cutting edge the material is itself? Did anyone expect Beyoncé to be so bold?

Why She Might Not Win: Urban albums aren’t exactly the calling card of the Recording Academy, period. Wasn’t it previously mentioned that Beyoncé was in the position as a contender before? Honestly, when I Am…Sasha Fierce was nominated, Beyoncé won six awards that evening, including Song of the Year. Everything was going her way – up until AOTY. This time, Beyoncé ‘bread and butter’ doesn’t reside in pop categories, but only urban categories with her AOTY nod being the only exception. The fact she couldn’t get a nomination in the ROTY or SOTY makes you question how she’ll do in the album category.

Another concern is the content. As good as Beyoncé is, she an artist known most for her ‘records’ as opposed to her ‘songs.’ Records sure hurt her when I Am…Sasha Fierce lost the award. Also, will the voters be okay with the explicitness of the album? How many albums since Speakerboxxx/The Love Below sported a parental advisory label have been victorious since then? The answer is none. That album’s incredible musicianship is what secured it’s album of the year win. 

3) Beck, Morning Phase

Beck, Morning Phase

Why He Might Win: Beck, like Beyoncé, has been in this position before. Unlike Beyoncé, it’s been nearly 20 years ago. That makes Beck this year’s ‘oldie’, even if he only 44. The Recording Academy seems to have a thing for the veteran of the group, which bodes well in favor of Beck more now than it would when Odelay was nominated back when. Add fuel to the fire that Morning Phase lacks explicitness and was one of the bright spots in alternative rock circles, and Beck just might be taking home the big one. 

Why He Might Not Win: Morning Phase is a solid album, but it didn’t have nearly the impact that Odelay did. Furthermore, Morning Phase is more of an album that finds Beck flexing rather innovating, meaning it’s not ‘brand new’ you might say. Compared to Beyoncé’s effort, the rollout wasn’t nearly as cutting-edge, nor is the product itself. Ultimately, Morning Phase may not be flashy enough to win AOTY.

4) Pharrell Williams, GIRL 

Pharrell Williams, G I R L © Columbia

Why He Might Win: One of two album of the year nominees not receiving its just due, Pharrell Williams’ GIRL is a terrific album with excellent records. While it’s less bold than Beyoncé’s effort, it’s a tamer urban contemporary effort that should appeal to voters who dislike the more profane Beyoncé. It also has that friendly record “Happy” that was everywhere.

Why He Might Not Win: Beyoncé is considered more a front-runner and the urban support will likely go to her. It seemed like there was more buzz around Williams previously, but that has since died down. It wouldn’t be surprising if Williams sat in 5th place for album of the year. 

5) Ed Sheeran, X

Ed Sheeran, X © Atlantic

Why He Might Win: Ed Sheeran has landed some big Grammy nominations, namely a nomination for Song of the Year (“The A Team”) and Best New Artist. Did he win either? No, but maybe overlooking Sheeran pays off for him as his well-embraced X takes home the ultimate honors.

Why He Might Not Win: People like Ed Sheeran – really they do. But, there is just little belief that X will win album of the year. It’s filled with the hits (“Sing” and “Don’t” most notably), but with Smith being the big competition, it’s hard to see pop support favoring Sheeran over the vocal angel.


Who ultimately wins? It’s a race between Sam Smith and Beyoncé. Beyoncé is arguably most deserving, but Smith may be better positioned with a package that voters respect the most. That said, both could cancel themselves out (remember Kanye West and Amy Winehouse) and the ‘dark horse’ Beck could pull out the upset win. It’s not so much an upset given the quality of Morning Phase, but with the two most popular albums vying for the big win, it would be surprising if Beck pulled such a thing off.

 Photo Credits© Capitol, © Sony,  © Interscope, © Columbia, © Atlantic


Luke James © Island

Rankings: Best R&B Albums of 2014

Teyana Taylor, VII © G.O.O.D. Ranking things is hard – understatement. So look, there were many sound R&B albums in 2014 – don’t let the abysmal sales dissuade you. That said, there were only a couple of truly great ones – led by one unopposed homerun – that sit atop the standings. Here are the 25 26 Best R&B albums of 2014…maybe.

1) D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah 

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah © RCA

There was no better R&B album in 2014. It’s not even that close as D’Angelo came back in a huge way. R&B hasn’t sounded like this since…you get the idea.

Two Favorites: “1000 Deaths” & “Sugah Daddy”

2) Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour

Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour © Capitol

If you consider Smith’s album to be an R&B album, well, it definitely sits atop the list.

Two Favorites: “Stay With Me” & “I’m Not The Only One”


3) Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions

Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions © Capitol

London definitely gave Mary a lift. Too bad the sales didn’t give her one as well – no “Therapy” for that, unfortunately!

Two Favorites: “Therapy” & “Whole Damn Year”


4) Pharrell Williams, G I R L

Pharrell Williams, G I R L © Columbia

We “came and got it” Skateboard P, and it was G-O-O-D.

Two Favorites: “Happy” & “Gust of Wind”


5) Prince, Art Official Age

Prince, ART OFFICIAL AGE © Warner Bros Eccentricity is always a win in my book – let’s “Funknroll!”

Two Favorites: “Breakdown” & “Funknroll”

6) K. Michelle, Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart?

K. Michelle, Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? © Atlantic

Can’t knock K. Michelle for her exceptional pipes or even her honesty here. She just wants the perfect man, and she knows “Drake Would Love” her!

Two Favorites: “Love ‘Em All” and “Maybe I Should Call”


7) Jennifer Hudson, JHUD

Jennifer Hudson, JHUD © RCA

I can’t dance, but the grooves on JHUD certainly made me want to.

Two Favorites: “It’s Your World” and “I Can’t Describe (The Way I Feel)”


8) Trey Songz, Trigga

Trey Songz, Trigga © Atlantic

I am a firm believer that Trey Songz really did invent sex. He loves to sing about it too much.

Two Favorites: “Cake” and “SmartPhones”


9) August Alsina, Benediction

August Alsina, Testimony © Def Jam

Since it’s the Benediction, let the church say, amen!

Two Favorites: “Make It Home” (featuring Jeezy) & “Benediction” (featuring Rick Ross)

10) Mali Music, Mali Is…

Mali Music, Mali Is © RCA

Underrated, I definitely “Believe” in Mali Is… There’s plenty of “Heavy Love” to be found here.

Two Favorites: “Heavy Love” & “Believe”

11) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give The People What They Want

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give The People What They Want © Daptone

Give The People What They Want is just another sound traditional R&B album by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – no “Retreat” necessary here!

Two Favorites: “Retreat!” & “People Get What They Deserve”


12) Kelis, Food

Kelis, Food © Ninja Tune

A yummy, yet underrated album – love those “Jerk Ribs” especially!

Two Favorites: “Jerk Ribs” & “Floyd”

13) Ariana Grande, My Everything

Ariana Grande, My Everything © Republic

Is she purely pop or is she R&B enough to hang? My Everything is a solid album, and the urban influence is strong, so, we’ll put the “Problem” child in the middle.

Two Favorites: “Problem” and “Bang Bang” (Jessie J featuring Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj)

14) Chris Brown, X

Chris Brown, X © RCA

He definitely deserves some credit for making a respectable album following that mess named Fortune.

Two Favorites: “Add Me In” and “New Flame”

15) Marsha Ambrosius, Friends & Lovers

Marsha Ambrosius, Friends & Lovers

Friends & Lovers ranks among the most sensual albums to grace this list. Not everyday there’s a song named “69” – just saying!

Two Favorites: “69” & “Stronger”


16) Luke James, Luke James

Luke James © Island

Another quietly issued album, Luke James has been building buzz for years since “I Want You” was released.

Two Favorites: “Trouble” and “Options”


17) Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit

Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit © Interscope

He’s a pretty confident dude – I would be to if I were “The Man.” 

Two Favorites: “The Man” & “Love Is The Answer”


18) Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce

Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love Marriage & Divorce © Motown Toni and Babyface seem to cover their bases with the title itself. The album does so too.

Two Favorites: “Hurt You” & “Where Did It Go Wrong?”


19) Tinashe, Aquarius

Tinashe, Aquarius © RCA Tinashe is just “2 On” to leave off the list – she can even make a “Thug Cry!”

 Two Favorites: “2 On” & “Thug Cry”

20) Joe, Bridges

Joe, Bridges © Plaid Lover

The lack of flash or maybe just Joe’s continual consistency keeps this album lower than it should be on this list. It’s no “Dilemma” though.

Two Favorites: “Till The Rope Gives Way” & “The Rest Will Follow”

 21) Jhené Aiko, Souled Out

Jhené Aiko, Souled Out © Def Jam

One of the quietest R&B albums on this list, it is an interesting listen by all means – no worries and no “Pressure” Jhené.

Two Favorites: “Limbo Limbo Limbo” & “The Pressure”

22) Leela James, Fall For You

Leela James, Fall For You © BMG Rights Mgmt

Didn’t we all fall for Leela James this year? Fall For You was another fine addition to her discography!

Two Favorites: “Who’s Gonna Love You More” & “Say That” (featuring Anthony Hamilton)


23) Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse

Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse

We all know it didn’t sell and MC has had a bad year, but the album wasn’t nearly as bad everything else – it definitely has its “Beautiful” moments.

Two Favorites: “Beautiful” & “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give Up Now)” 


24) Daley, Days & Nights

Daley, Days & Nights © Republic

Yeah, few people know who Daley is, but they should – this British contemporary R&B singer is legit.

Two Favorites: “Blame The World” & “Broken”


25) Ledisi, The Truth

Ledisi, The Truth © Verve 

Though not nearly as distinctive as some of her previous albums, The Truth still shows Ledisi’s craft for making a solid R&B album.

Two Favorites: “I Blame You” and “88 Boxes”


26) Teyana Taylor, VII

Teyana Taylor, VII © G.O.O.D. Quietly released, there were plenty of pros about Teyana Taylor’s debut.

Two Favorites: “Just Different” and “Request”

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah © RCA

D’Angelo’s Triumphant ‘Black Messiah’ Reenergizes R&B

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah © RCA

D’Angelo and the Vanguard • Black Messiah • RCA • US Release Date: December 15, 2014

Arguably, an artist ‘out of the game’ for 14 long years has made the album to beat, right at the tail end of 2014. A comeback from one of neo-soul’s visionaries has long been rumored but to continual disappointments. Finally, D’Angelo has shocked the world by releasing his third studio album, the superb Black Messiah. Honestly, after hearing Black Messiah, many R&B artists should consider retooling their game. Black Messiah truly resides in a league of its own, affecting the listener more and more with each successive listen.

Let me do one quick side note before I explain why I’m so high on Black Messiah. Previously, I’d crowned my two favorite R&B albums of the year as Pharrell Williams’ G I R L and Mary J. Blige’s The London Sessions – both stellar albums. I’m still onboard the fan train and agree they are among the year’s best, BUT, I’ve now got to award D’Angelo with the honors of best R&B album of 2014. Hey, same sort of thing happened when Beyoncé shocked the world in 2013.

One of the key reasons why Black Messiah is the triumphant effort it is, is because D’Angelo stays true to himself. Sure, neo-soul has been dead for a minute (unfortunately), but this unapologetically, soulful LP would lead you to believe that the movement has been going strong since the last time D’Angelo and his contemporaries embraced the style. That’s not the case. Neo-soul was six-feet under prior to Black Messiah. Is this the album to resurrect something that shouldn’t have ended? More traditional R&B listeners can only hope!

Another reason for Black Messiah’s triumph is its rollout. For an artist on an extended hiatus that seems unlikely to end, what’s more shocking than dropping a new album that no one expected in the first place? D’Angelo has been rumoring a comeback for years since Voodoo, none of which materialized. Rather than getting fans’ hopes up with broken promises, why not let actions ultimately speak louder than words? Personally, on Monday, December 15, I had all intentions of going to Best Buy to purchase Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint and maybe Charli XCX’s Sucker. My wallet became skinnier upon hearing D’Angelo was back – and there was no hesitation!

The final reason why Black Messiah is triumphant – there is no album from 2014 that sounds like this one – NONE! Specifically in the R&B field, even a fine retro-soul effort such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsGive The People What They Want doesn’t have that many similarities to Black Messiah. There is a transcendence beyond, definitely made clear on the ‘out there’ but brilliant “1000 Deaths,” maybe the most confounding yet unique moment from Black Messiah.   Then throw in the blend of jazz and gospel-tinged soul of cuts like “Sugah Daddy” and Black Messiah is nothing short of breathtaking.   D’Angelo once more shows why he is “one of a kind”

Ultimately, D’Angelo’s triumphant Black Messiah reenergizes R&B. Maybe even bigger than that, it proves that even when it seems impossible, an artist can resurrect his or her career if the timing is right. 14 years is a quite a long wait, but just look at the buzz D’s comeback has received – R&B listeners have been starving for this sort of album for a long time. From top to bottom, Black Messiah is a contemporary masterpiece – a tour de force that makes one say, “So this is the real R&B.”

Favorites: “Ain’t That Easy,” “1000 Deaths,” “Sugah Daddy,” “Back to The Future (Part I), “Till It’s Done (Tutu),” “Another Life” 


Photo Credits: © RCA
Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions © Capitol

Favorite R&B Albums From 2004 – 2014

Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions © Capitol

The time has come for the unveiling of my favorite R&B album of 2014. But first, how about examining some of my favorite R&B albums over the past 10 years. In 2004, I graduated from high school and began college in the fall – I’m so old. Anyways, staying on script, here are some favorite R&B albums from 2004 to 2014.

Usher, Confessions © La Face


2004 was a beast for urban music. R&B wasn’t nearly in the shape that it is today. But we all know that there was one album that dominated the year and that belonged to Usher’s Confessions. “Yeah!” was unstoppable, and everyone was truly “letting it Burn.” Crown Confessions one of few modern day classics that remains as fresh as it was in ’04. Usher ruled 2004, but don’t forget about magnificent efforts from Jill Scott (Beautifully Human: Words & Sounds Vol. 2) and Prince (Musicology).

Mary J. Blige, The Breakthrough © Geffen


Mariah Carey had a huge year with her comeback effort The Emancipation of Mimi, but the best R&B album of the year came in December with Mary J. Blige’s The Breakthrough. If 2003’s Love & Life was generally considered less triumphant than her past works, The Breakthrough greatly exceeded expectations.

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black © Republic


2006 had plenty of excellent R&B albums, though arguably pinpointing one is harder to do than in 2004 or 2005. Still, the one that stands tall above the rest is a retro-soul effort by way of the late, great Amy Winehouse. Back in Black is an album that is simply timeless and will forever remain a modern R&B classic. Even with so many solid contemporary R&B albums issued, it’s the throwback vibe of Back in Black that represented the best of the year.

Keyshia Cole, Just Like You © Geffen 2007:

Mary J. Blige would release another fine album called Growing Pains in 2007, though it would never outshine the unbeatable The Breakthrough. Alicia Keys would also release her first proper studio album since 2003 smash The Diary of Alicia Keys. Even with two preeminent divas and a fine sophomore album by Ne-Yo, Keyshia Cole had her moment with Just Like You, her best album to date where consistency and magnificent vocals are the M.O.

Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman © Def Jam


Dominance wouldn’t be the best word to describe R&B in 2008, but there were plenty of great albums. Beyoncé had everyone onboard with “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” from her double album I Am Sasha Fierce. Jazmine Sullivan had us “busting window out” on her superb debut, Fearless, while Jamie Foxx told us to “Blame It on the alcohol” on Intuition. Still, arguably the most polished, refined R&B album of the year went to Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman. It wasn’t flashy, but definitely a sound, enjoyable album.

Maxwell, BLACKsummers'night © Columbia


Again, a lack of dominance could describe the R&B market. Even so, albums by Rihanna (Rated R), Chrisette Michele (Epiphany), and Trey Songz (Ready) were all worthwhile. But the best R&B went to Maxwell, who seemed to keep neo-soul music alive just a little while longer on his Grammy-winning BLACKsummers’night. Those “Pretty Wings” were gorgeous!

Jazmine Sullivan, Love Me Back © J-Records


Pick any number of great R&B albums and you have 2010 characterized. Looking over a number of albums that made me smile, one of the best came by way of Jazmine Sullivan, whose sophomore album Love Me Back was incredibly under appreciated. Who expected her to be as consistent as she was on her debut? Fantasia didn’t do too badly for herself either with Back To Me. Also, depending on how you characterize him, Bruno Mars did his thing on Doo Wops & Hooligans.

Anthony Hamilton, Back to Love © RCA


Hmm, who did have the best R&B album in 2011? First, let me give a shout out to Adele for her crossover appeal with 21. While there is ample soulfulness on 21, we’ll award Best R&B album to an album best defined as R&B. Yes, plenty of people gave Chris Brown props for F.A.M.E., but there were also better albums. With no one dominant, let’s give Anthony Hamilton some much-deserved recognition for Back To Love.

Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream © RCA


This is a tie. With the alternative R&B movement growing, two artists truly stood out: Frank Ocean (Channel Orange) and Miguel (Kaleidoscope Dream). But also shout out to Melanie Fiona, who’s The MF Life was one of the best, most underrated R&B albums of the year.

Beyoncé, Beyoncé © Columbia


This one’s easy – it’s Beyoncé, hands down. Still, with many great R&B albums released, another that deserves recognition is John Legend’s Love in the Future.

Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions © Capitol


And the winner for Best R&B album of 2014 is… a tie between Pharrell Williams’ Girl and Mary J. Blige’s The London Sessions. William’s album is slickly produced, benefiting from its grooves. The London Sessions may not be another The Breakthrough for Blige, but it shows some of her best musical attributes artistically.

Photo Credits: © Capitol, © La Face, © Geffen, © Republic, © Geffen, © Def Jam, © Columbia, © J-Records, © RCA
Pentatonix, That's Christmas To Me © RCA

Chart Takeaways: Pentatonix Rises On Billboard 200

Pentatonix, That's Christmas To Me © RCA

A new week, another Billboard 200 chart to analyze – Here it goes – enough said!

1) “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate,” but Taylor Swift keeps on selling like crazy. 1989 is the ‘second coming’ – of album sales that is.

2) Pentatonix continues to win America’s hearts as That’s Christmas To Me is the holiday album to beat this season. That’s Christmas To Me rose to #2 this week.

SHADY XV © Shady

3) Double-disc compilation ShadyXV lands at #3.

4) Is it ironic that One Direction’s Four fell from #1 to #4 in its second week?

5) Sam Smith returns once more to where his “bread is buttered” – the top ten. Actually better yet, the top five. (#11 to #5)

Rick Ross, Hood Billionaire © Def Jam

6) Rick Ross misses the top five for the first time in his career. Hood Billionaire lands at #6 – his lowest peaking and debuting album.

7) Thanks in part to a redesigned Billboard 200, Ariana Grande reaps the benefits, as My Everything ascends from #39 to #7.

8) Beyoncé’s More Only (EP) opens at #8. Beyoncé also rises, moving from #199 to #39 with the release of the platinum edition of the album.

9) Pitbull’s Globalization debuts at #18.

10) Selena Gomez’s greatest hits album For You bows at #24. Not too many people must’ve embraced Gomez’s motto “Come and Get It.”

Iggy Azalea, Reclassified © Def Jam

11) Being Reclassified wasn’t that great for I-G-G-Y aka Iggy Azalea. She didn’t exactly knock too many doors down with her modest #27 opening.

12) Good news for Nick Jonas – more people bought (and/or streamed) Nick Jonas. The self-titled debut rises from #49 to #32. Still not that “Jealous” though…even if he does have a “right to be hellish…” 

13) Horrid week for Pink Floyd as The Endless River tumbles from #6 to #33. Ouch! Not that much “Money” coming from the legendary band’s third week on the chart.

14) Can she go Platinum? Well few musicians have in recent times, but a move from #94 to #35 has to have Miranda Lambert feeling somewhat optimistic.   Numerous country artists saw notable gains in sales this week.

15) Meghan Trainor is making preparations to slaughter come 2015 as her Title EP rises from #104 to #37. Girl, keep those “lips moving.”

Bette Midler, It's The Girls! © Warner Bros

16) It might be titled It’s The Girls! But Bette Midler’s Girls had a hard go of it this week, plummeting from #17 to #47.

17) Circa Survive debut at #50 with latest album, Descensus. 

18) Cole Swindell, following numerous gains for country musicians, reenters the Billboard 200 at #55 in its 39th week (Cole Swindell). Jason Derulo also reenters right beside Swindell at #56 in his 31st week (Talk Dirty).

19) Add Pharrell WilliamsGirl to albums reentering the ranks this week (#67).

Slipknot, .5 - The Gray Chapter © Roadrunner

20) Another bad week for Slipknot, this time to a free fall from #40 to #80. .5: The Gray Chapter seems to be losing support weekly…

21) John Legend also reenters the Billboard 200 at #81 as Love In The Future is in its 63rd week.

22) In her third week, Whitney Houston continues to struggle with Her Greatest Performances (Live). The fall is from #45 to #83.

Wiz Khalifa, Blacc Hollywood © Atlantic

23) For Wiz Khalifa its small victories. One happened this week as Blacc Hollywood rises from the ranks of obscurity to the ranks of less obscurity – #153 to #84.

24) Not a great week for the old folks. Neil Diamond, like Bette Midler, isn’t experiencing much staying power. A drop from #47 to #87 doesn’t help his cause in the least.

25) Falling nearly 100 spots on any chart can’t mean good things. Definitely not good for Trisha Yearwood’s PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit, which falls from a #33 start to #126 in its second week. Oh well. That said, it was even worse for TV On The Radio, who managed to surpass falling 100 spots from #22 to #132. Sheesh or better yet sh—You see where I’m going.

Photo Credits: © RCA, © Shady/Aftermath, © Def Jam, © Warner Bros, © Roadrunner,  © Atlantic